Skip to main content

Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

See other formats

174                               I£FE   OF
us a science of the earth which points out the right way
for a future perfect knowledge, and gives the means
for a general explanation of the law which may lead
to analogous conclusions on their as yet undiscovered
oauses.    His observation of the warmth of the earth
increasing with its depth, and the  opposite  effect of
the   centre  towards the   sin-face, brings him   to   an
explanation of volcanos as the causes of the form of
the earth's surface, some parts of which are raised to
The regions of eternal snow, while some are split by
rising vapour or burning fluids.     Continent and sea
interchange, and the atmosphere—the air ocean, as
Humboldt calls it—covers both.
The distribution of land and water, the form of the
surface, the direction of the isothermic lines, influence,
as Humboldt shows, the geographical distribution of
plants and animals on our planet, but the different
characteristics of the human races, and their distribu-
tion over the earth, are entirely independent of these
conditions of nature,
Humboldt introduces into Sgil these branches of science
that unity of observation which proceeds from an ar-
rangement of facts according to their natural relations^
It has never been his purpose tabularly to arrange iso-
lated experiences; his descriptions begin with the
form and bulk of the earth, but he did not draw his
history of their origin only from the examination of
their mineralogie qualities, of petrifactions and crysta-
lizations, but he found the history of the earth's origin
•in its geometric form. He knew that an elliptical
spheroid revolving, on its axis proves a former soft and
fluid body, that therefore the earth once was in a fluid
and afterwards a soft state. Humboldt finds this hypo-
thesis proved by the depression at the poles, by the
elevation of the surface on the line which the moon
describes round the earth, and by the elevation at the*
equator, the line of the greatest velocity which the
soft earth would necessarily take. He calls the level
of the ocean the mathematical form of the earth,
which it must form as a revolving "ball, but accidental